Tournament watch: With a strong finish, how far can Oklahoma climb?

Listed as a 3-seed by the NCAA Tournament Committee, the Sooners can state their case for even more when they lock horns with Texas on Thursday
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The muddled waters of NCAA Tournament “bracketology” were made clear this past Saturday.

The selection committee released its top-16 teams to date, ranking Oklahoma No. 12 — the final 3-seed in the 2021 tournament field.

After the Sooners took two overtimes to beat West Virginia — also rated a 3-seed and the No. 10 team by the committee — Lon Kruger has his team firmly entrenched amongst the nation’s best.

The climb to a 2-seed has been made more difficult for Oklahoma by something completely out of their control: the weather. 

With snow blanketing the midwest, the Sooners tried to push back their game against the Texas Longhorns twice, but ultimately the contest was postponed indefinitely.

Now lacking matchups with the Longhorns and the Baylor Bears, OU could struggle to add the big games to their resume necessary to vault the teams around them jockeying for a 2-seed. 

Should OU and No. 15 Texas get to play their rematch, the Sooners will have a strong case for why they should finish on the 2-seed line when the tournament field is revealed in full. 

Completing the season sweep of the ‘Horns would give OU yet another Quadrant 1 win (a home game against a team ranked 1-30 in the NCAA NET ratings, a neutral site game against a team ranked in the top 50, or a road game against a team ranked in the top 75). That would be OU's sixth Q1 win of the season, tied for third-most in the country.

Current 2-seeds Illinois and Alabama both have six Quadrant 1 wins, but they boast losses outside of Quadrant 1, which Oklahoma does not. The other 2-seeds, Houston and Villanova, have fewer losses than the Sooners, but they count four Quadrant 1 wins combined and have not been tested like OU.

Oklahoma's resume vs. current the two seeds

TeamCommittee RankingRPIQuad 1 RecordQuad 2 RecordQuad 3 RecordQuad 4 Record

Illinois

5

29

6-4

4-1

2-0

2-0

Villanova

6

19

2-3

3-0

7-0

1-0

Alabama

7

4

6-3

4-2

6-0

1-0

Houston

8

5

2-0

3-1

9-1

2-0

Oklahoma

12

12

5-5

1-0

1-0

6-0

The rematch with the Longhorns won’t be the only opportunity Kruger’s Sooners have to pad their resume. A pair of matchups with the Oklahoma State Cowboys will give OU the chance to add another Quadrant 1 win as well as a Quadrant 2 victory, and a deep run in the Big 12 Tournament will afford Oklahoma even more chances to raise its stock.

But even if the season ended today, OU’s worst metric, RPI, ranks ahead of Illinois and Villanova. While the Sooners rank No. 12 in RPI, Villanova sits at No. 19 and Illinois lags even further behind at No. 29.

Though not an objective consideration by the committee, the Oklahoma defense will travel to any arena in the country, giving OU a puncher’s chance in every remaining game on their schedule.

Forcing 13.2 turnovers per game, OU has reinvented itself midseason with its four-guard lineup and the defensive intensity brought by transfer Elijah Harkless. Pair the defensive output with the senior leadership of Austin Reaves, who leads the Sooners at 16.6 points,  5.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists — the only player in the nation at those standards — and Kruger may have found the recipe for yet another deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

Should Oklahoma top Texas, split with Oklahoma State and reach the semifinals of the conference tournament, there is no reason why the Sooners shouldn’t feel good about their chances of landing a 2-seed headed into March Madness.